Coming off two consecutive winless campaigns, the Warwick Vets boys’ basketball team had its best season in over a decade last year when it went 11-7 in Division III.
And even with many of the players off that team lost to graduation, Vets thinks it has enough to keep the program headed in that positive direction.
“I think we’re looking to win now, for sure,” Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “I think we have a pretty good nucleus of young kids and old kids that we can definitely win now with.”
The team will be trying to replace a number of key contributors, notably leading scorer Corey Muto, Mark Flynn, Pat Kane and Chris Fraser, and it will look to do so with a number of players who haven’t been in those spots before.
However, it does a few players it can lean on.
The first of those is senior guard Dom Malaga, who returns after a starting role last season. Malaga had a knack for getting to the basket a season ago, and he will most likely have to score more this season.
Also returning is senior forward Travis Babcock, who played big minutes last season as well, but, like Malaga, will have to contribute at a higher level in his senior year.
Then there are three other seniors – Greg Bennett, Brandon McGuire and Dom Moreira – who saw some time last year but will have to see their roles and their production increase for the ’Canes to continue on the upswing.
“I’m still looking for that go-to guy right now,” LeBlanc said. “Dom’s got a lot of qualities that are good qualities. Greg can definitely shoot the ball. (Moreira) is a big guy inside, as is Travis.”
With Moreira and Babcock, as well as a few others, LeBlanc thinks his team will be able to establish a steady inside game on the offensive end.
That’s a stark contrast to last season, when the ’Canes employed a dribble-drive offense that was built around slashing to the basket and finding open men on the perimeter for three-point attempts.
With the personnel the team has, though, going inside and settling down a little more should be more productive.
“We’ll look to push the ball a little bit, but I think a little bit less,” LeBlanc said. “I think we need to get in our sets more and try to set some screens and that stuff. That’s where I’m strong this year. I’ve got some size. These kids all bang and they’re all ready to go.”
That size should also help the ’Canes on the defensive side of the ball, where they will try to utilize a zone more often than they did last season.
“We’ll slow the ball down a little bit this year, and I think we’ll play a lot of zone,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve got some bigger kids, so we’ll play some zone. Pack it in and let teams shoot over us.”
Vets is also planning on getting contributions from some underclassmen.
Sophomore Will Remak played some as a freshman, and his role will be expanded in his second season at the varsity level. In the junior class, LeBlanc will rely on Colby Menard, Tyler Moran and John Moore to serve as role players and give him some important minutes.
There are also brothers Jeremy and Justin Batista. Justin is a sophomore and Jeremy is a freshmen, and they will also have a chance to get some playing time.
“Very good shooters, very good players,” LeBlanc said of the Batistas. “Both fast, lightning fast.”
With all that said, a lot remains to be seen. The ’Canes expect to struggle some in the early going while they find the right rotations and right game plan.
But when it does all come together, LeBlanc thinks it’s a group that has the opportunity to do some damage.
“It’ll take a little bit,” LeBlanc said. “We’ll have some growing pains early in the season. We’ll have three games before the Christmas break. Then, we’ll see.”
Vets starts the season with a non-league match-up against Chariho today at home at 7:30 p.m. From there, the ’Canes will be off until next Friday, Dec. 16, when they will travel to Middletown for a 7 p.m. start to their league season.